Boothbay Harbor Rotary Club

A look at forces impacting our fishing industry
Mon, 01/23/2023 - 8:45am

A snow storm was on its way but inside the Rotary building all was warmth and gaiety. President Bruce called the meeting to order, and once the formalities were over, introduced guests Lauren Palmer and Sally Kent. Glad to get to know you!

Many happy dollars were collected for Nicole Evans’ well-deserved promotion, and for Tory Paxson’s reappearance after the rigors of Gardens Aglow. Sad dollars were shared at the passing of Frank Redman, who left us way too soon.

Then it was on to the main event of the evening: a talk about the current state of the lobster industry by fisherman Eben Wilson, son of sailmaker and former Rotary member Nat Wilson.
Eben, who grew up in East Boothbay, said he got his first lobster license at age 8. He was the first member of his family to be a fisherman, and that is how he has been making his living ever since.

Eben is a member of a commercial fisheries group working with the state Department of Marine Resources to create an outline of how fisheries should best interact with state regulators. He discussed the three forces currently impacting the industry: wind farms, regulations designed to protect right whales, and global warming.

About wind farms: The governor has put a moratorium on offshore wind turbines within three miles with the exception of the Aqua Ventus project off Monhegan Island, which is being used as a test site to evaluate the technology. Under consideration is a 730- ft.-tall floating structure. The plan is to close 1.5 miles of bottom to leave space for the structure’s three anchor chains recognizing that a lobster string can run a half mile. Eben pointed out that a wind farm would mean closing hundreds of square miles of bottom that are now part of our fishing economy. Wind farms will also be problematic to whales, Eben said, because of cables suspended in the water as well as the effect of the wind acoustics on the whales. Eben made clear that the wind farm technology is emerging, and we don’t know what all the effects will be, but we do know that the floating systems will change the ecosystem of the water they are in.

More on right whales: Maine has the highest number of licenses and vertical lines along the Eastern seaboard, Eben said, meaning that if last year’s plan had gone into effect, it would have shut the fishery down. Eben believes that the six-year deferment called for in the omnibus spending package is long enough to collect scientific information on how best to manage the seas to protect the whales and the fisheries. “Before, we didn’t have good data. And there are still huge gaps,” he said.

He pointed out that the number of right whales killed by Maine fisheries since 2000 is zero, although commercial ship strikes elsewhere are a real problem. Under a bilateral agreement with Canada, he said, any whale killed in Canadian waters is one-half the fault of Maine. “So if a whale is involved in a ship strike in the Gulf of St Lawrence, one half of that whale is considered killed by Maine fishermen,” he said.

When asked about new, rope-less gear designed to use GPS to track a trap, with an acoustic signal to bring the gear to the surface, Eben said the technology might work under perfect conditions – but that conditions on the ocean were seldom perfect. He also said we don’t know how either the whales – or lobster larvae – will react to acoustic signals penetrating their waters – a similar concern to that which applies to the noise generated by wind turbines.

About global warming: Eben said the lobster biomass is healthy in Midcoast Maine. There are a lot of variables out there, but he credited the V-notch law, which protects breeding females from being harvested, for the fact that our egg production is huge. Massachusetts has never had such a law, he said.

Eben’s candid assessment was a great opportunity to get a close-up view of the challenges surrounding the fishing industry from an extremely knowledgeable source. Thanks, Eben, for providing such an informative evening and all our club members can say is: Don’t be a stranger.

This coming Thursday, Jan. 26, we’ll hear from Bigelow Lab scientist, Rachael Spicer, about a new initiative on the Peninsula to protect clean drinking water. Many local organizations have come together to protect Adams Pond and Knickerbocker Lake from contamination by safeguarding the watershed. The Boothbay Clean Drinking Water Initiative is addressing this important issue. Be there!

Meanwhile, Tory Paxson got together with her fellow presidents-elect from throughout the Rotary District this past Saturday. The get-togethers and learnings continue: Our presidential leadership team is invited to the MidYear Dinner at University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall on February 14 (Valentine’s Day) to learn about goals for next year and enjoy a Peace Concert featuring University of Southern Maine Chamber Singers in partnership with the Brunswick High School Concert Choir. Info and registration is on the District website (www.rotary7780.org) and rumor has it our own Marty Helman will be keynoting.

Tory will be attending the New England-wide Presidents-elect Training Seminar the second week of March, and after that we are all invited to make plans for the new Rotary year at the District Assembly set for Saturday morning, April 15. But wait, there’s more: The annual Rotary Celebration will explore Bailey Island and all things Rotary on Saturday, June 10.

Interested in learning more about our club? Ask a Rotarian or come to one of our meetings, set for Thursdays at 6:00 pm at the Rotary Building, 66 Montgomery Avenue. We have fun, learn more about the community, and look for ways to give back. You can too!